4.1 The climate and energy legislation proposals of the Fit for 55 package should support sustainable local government climate action
With the publication of the climate and energy package in July 2021, the Commission wants to ensure that the EU will achieve its target to reduce emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030, as compared to 1990 levels. Some of the proposals of this important legislative package have a direct impact on cities and municipalities, while others have indirect effects.
The updating of the legislation should support local authorities in reaching their own climate targets and help them to reduce emissions in areas such as mobility and the built environment in an ecologically, economically and socially sustainable way. Involving both local and regional private and public sector actors in energy and climate work is an important way to ensure that the measures are efficient and acceptable. The resources for local investments supporting the objectives of the climate and energy package must be ensured, the administrative burden of funding must be kept to a minimum and the various forms of funding must be coordinated.
Duplication of policy instruments should be avoided. For example, with a possible expansion of emissions trading, the objectives and measures of the effort sharing sectors should not overlap. In a rapid transition, resources should be allocated to the assessment and monitoring of the impacts and effectiveness of the ever-tightening policy instruments to ensure that the corrective measures are timely and justified.
The Commission's initiative on a Social Climate Fund emphasises the fairness of EU climate action. In the pursuit of a carbon-neutral society, we have to make choices as to the kind of harm and costs climate action can cause so that the adverse impacts of climate change can be avoided in the future. The objectives and measures must be socially acceptable. As climate policy guidance develops, new ways of compensating for its adverse effects are necessary.
The Member States should be allowed to fully plan and provide compensation for individual national and local impacts in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.
Inquiries: Pauliina Jalonen, Senior Adviser on Climate Policy
4.2 Flexibilities in the implementation of the energy directives should be exploited
The Commission's proposal to update the so-called energy directives of the Fit for 55 package tightens requirements with the aim to contribute towards the 55 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030. However, the weakness of the proposals for updating the Energy Efficiency Directive (EED), the Renewable Energy Directive (RED III) and the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) is that they increase detailed and cost-inefficient requirements while contributing very little to the Fit for 55 package’s main objective, the reduction of emissions, across the EU.
The effectiveness of the proposals varies from one Member State to the other depending on how advanced the country’s energy use and energy systems are. The differences are notable. Finland’s starting point is better than that of many other Member States. We have already for long been improving energy efficiency, and the emissions from the energy system are constantly decreasing. The obligations imposed by the Fit for 55 package have been determined with little attention to the different starting points of the Member States; the intention has been to add obligations equally to every Member State.
Articles 5 to 8 of the proposed amendments to the EED tightened the energy efficiency obligations of public contracting authorities. The changes would include a new obligation for the public sector to reduce final energy consumption by 1.7 per cent, an annual renovation requirement for the entire public building stock (at least three per cent of the total area) to the nearly zero-energy building (NZEB) level, and energy efficiency requirements for the purchase or rental of buildings. The obligation to renovate public buildings would mean additional annual investments of around EUR 3.6 billion in the local government sector. Yet, it would reduce Finland's greenhouse gas emissions by as little as 0.02 –0.03 tons per year according to the calculations of the Finnish Energy Authority.
The proposal for updating the RED III includes minimum requirements for the use of renewable energy in individual buildings. Greenhouse gas emissions from a building depend on the energy it uses. Property owners may not be able to influence the energy-related emissions at all through their own choices. The RED III also proposes to tighten the requirements for the sustainability of biomass fuels used in heating plants. This would unreasonably increase the administrative burden especially in small heating plants.
The Commission's proposed amendment to the EPBD would, if implemented, make zero-emission buildings the standard for new buildings and introduce minimum requirements to existing buildings. The requirements for existing buildings would also enter into force in the buildings that are not renovated. In addition, the proposal would substantially tighten the requirements for recharging infrastructure especially in non-residential buildings.
In 2023, we are gradually shifting the focus of our advocacy to the national implementation, even though the negotiations, known as trilogues, between the Commission, the Parliament and the Member States still continue in the early part of the year. Where possible, we will seek to influence the final versions of the directives, which may considerably differ from the Commission's proposal. In national implementation, the objective must be to make full use of the flexibilities provided by the energy directives so that local and regional strengths can be exploited in an operationally, economically and ecologically sustainable manner across all Finnish cities and municipalities. Any new EU measures resulting from the energy crisis created by Russia’s military aggression should also be closely monitored and efforts made to influence them as necessary.
Inquiries: Vesa Peltola, Energy Adviser
4.3 For the protection of biodiversity and an effective pursuit of a toxic-free environment, local circumstances should be considered and support given to local authority action
4.3.1 Implementation of the biodiversity strategy
On 20 May 2020, the European Commission published a new biodiversity strategy aimed at halting the loss of biodiversity by 2030. The biodiversity strategy sets targets for nature protection and restoration and proposes
measures to achieve them. The strategy sets ambitious targets for the protected areas within the EU: 30 per cent of both the EU’s land area and sea area should be protected. The EU is also launching a restoration programme to improve the ecological status of various terrestrial and aquatic living environments.
The strategy proposes that European cities of at least 20,000 inhabitants develop so-called urban greening plans by the end of 2021 “to bring nature back to cities and reward community action”. In Finland, the opportunities for implementing urban greening plans are assessed as part of the National Strategy and Action Plan for Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity.
In 2022, the Commission implemented parts of the strategy together with the Farm to Fork Strategy. In addition to other initiatives, the Commission has proposed new rules on the sustainable use of pesticides to ensure that the 50 per cent reduction target set in the Biodiversity Strategy and the Farm to Fork Strategy will be achieved by 2030. The AFLRA considers it important to reduce the use of pesticides to safeguard ecosystem services, which cities and municipalities rely on. The priority chosen by the Commission does not have any great impact on municipal activities.
The Commission has, furthermore, proposed a nature restoration law under which at least 20 per cent of the Union's land and sea areas should be restored by 2030 and all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050.
In the proposed form, the regulation would have substantial impacts on Finnish local authorities. It would affect local authorities in their different roles, for example in statutory land use planning and as authorities and landowners. The regulation would also have impacts on municipal services that require construction and infrastructure, and on the cost of these services.
It is necessary that Article 6 of the regulation proposal is amended in the subsequent preparation to reflect the views of local authorities. Safeguarding biodiversity requires effective and appropriate measures, which also take into account the starting points of the Member States. In the subsequent preparation, the solutions to deliver the objectives should be based on local circumstances and real needs and be relevant to the objectives across the EU. The geographical scope of Article 6 of the regulation proposal should be reviewed to avoid unreasonable situations, such as in the case of Finland.
The AFLRA finds it important that the versatile role of local authorities in delivering biodiversity targets is recognised in the implementation of the biodiversity strategy. At the same time, local authorities’ opportunities for
reconciling the biodiversity targets with other land use needs should be ensured. Stronger incentives to encourage nature conservation in local authorities should be put in place to enable a range of extensive, locally acceptable nature conservation actions especially outside conservation areas.
Local authorities should be offered usable funding and information to support their action on biodiversity. Biodiversity issues should be considered together with climate issues in the implementation of the biodiversity strategy. The aim should be to mainstream nature conservation. The wellbeing impacts of biodiversity in a rapidly urbanising Europe should be examined as a specific issue.
4.3.2 Zero-pollution package
As part of the European Green Deal, the Commission wants to create a non-toxic environment to protect European citizens and ecosystems. To achieve this, the Commission will continue the implementation of the zero-pollution action plan for the prevention of air, water and soil contamination. Follow-up measures to the zero-pollution action plan will be implemented for example in the area of integrated water resource management to combat surface water and groundwater pollutants and to improve air quality. The aim is to align the standards with the recommendations of the World Health Organization. New proposals for limit values were published in autumn 2022. The Commission also proposes measures for limiting the addition of microplastics to products and reducing their release into the environment. The Commission will address the challenges related to the sustainability of biodegradable and compostable plastics and identify applications with environmental benefits. The Commission will also review the legislation on classification, labelling and packaging and aim for a targeted revision of the REACH regulation for the protection of human health and nature.
In addition to the above measures, in autumn 2022 the Commission presented a proposal for a major revision of the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive. The proposal’s impacts on waste water treatment and sewerage are greater than anticipated. The Directive contains objectives which, if implemented, threaten to substantially increase the costs of municipal water utilities. Some of the measures are justified. However, the AFLRA is concerned that several of the proposed measures are inappropriate to Finland's circumstances and that decision-making powers have been delegated to the Commission. For example, according to the proposal the Commission could determine the treatment requirements for individual waste water treatment plants in certain areas in the future, and Finland’s cold conditions could no longer be considered in the
requirements for nitrogen removal in the same way as before. This would have significant cost implications for Finland in relation to the rest of Europe.
The Commission will prepare a legislative proposal on soil health in the second quarter of 2023. Soils are crucial for food, nature and our economy and deserve the same level of protection as water, air and the marine environment. The Soil Health Law proposal was announced in the EU soil strategy for 2030. The regulation will affect local authorities in their various roles, for example as landowners, planners, builders of infrastructure and permit authorities. One key aspect is how the regulation will directly and indirectly impact especially zoning and land use planning. It is essential to properly assess the relations between the various legal acts and their combined impact.
The EU’s environmental regulation has a major impact on the way that local authorities carry out their environmental tasks. The AFLRA considers it important that the EU's environmental policy supports the Member States in ensuring a clean environment in a sustainable and reasonable way. A clean environment sets a backdrop for the basic services provided by local authorities, the well-being of local residents and the livelihoods dependent on a clean environment.
In the future, more efforts should be concentrated on an efficient implementation and development of current legislation. In countries such as Finland, support for implementation should be provided for local authorities, because they have considerable responsibility for the implementation and monitoring of environmental regulations. The needs of Finnish local authorities and the specific circumstances of cities, municipalities and regions should be taken account of in the preparation and implementation of the zero-pollution package. Action taken as part of the zero-pollution package, such as the revision of the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive and water resource management measures should not lead to unnecessary overregulation jeopardising the essential services produced by local authorities, for example affordable and comprehensive water services, which improve the state of the environment.
The AFLRA considers it important that the Commission adheres to the principle of minimising the regulatory burden and fully adopts the “One In, One Out” approach. The AFLRA welcomes the Commission's proposal that the expected costs of complying with EU legislation are determined more transparently and administrative costs compensated.
Inquiries: Tommi Maasilta, Environmental Manager, and Tuulia Innala, Senior Adviser
4.4 Furthering the objectives of the European circular economy model requires product policy measures to complement emissions reduction
In 2023, the Commission will continue the implementation of the circular economy action plan by proposing measures to reduce waste and the environmental impact of waste, with a focus on food and textile waste. The Commission will concentrate on measures to improve textile recycling and propose increasing producers’ responsibility for textile waste treatment. The Commission will continue to promote sustainable product policy initiatives and seek to improve the rights of consumers to repair products at fair prices. The implementation of the measure would extend the lifetime of goods and thus promote the objectives of the circular economy. The Commission also proposes measures to limit the addition of microplastics to products and to decrease their release into the environment. The Commission will address the challenges related to the sustainability of biodegradable and compostable plastics and identify applications with environmental benefits. The Commission also intends to revise legislation on classification, labelling and packaging. A proposal to that effect was put forward at the end of November 2022.
The AFLRA supports the Commission’s aim to develop the requirements for product planning towards more environmentally friendly and sustainable products. It is also important to promote the repairability of products and the profitability of repairs as opposed to new acquisitions. When products are designed and new types of materials are placed on the market, attention must be paid to the durability and harmlessness of the products and to the suitability of new products and materials for their intended uses. Particular attention should be paid to the sources of emissions of microplastics. Limiting emissions at later stages must not lead to unsustainable and costly solutions for cities and municipalities, such as unnecessarily strict requirements for storm water treatment. The AFLRA welcomes measures to reduce food waste and to promote the recycling of textile waste. However, the AFLRA has reservations about increasing producers’ responsibility for textiles because it would pose challenges to Finland. We already have a relatively advanced municipal system for the collection and treatment of textile waste. This is why the local government perspective should be considered in the development and implementation of new initiatives and regulations.
Inquiries: Tuulia Innala, Senior Adviser
4.5 Finland’s accessibility and a shift to sustainable and smart mobility
Finland's logistical and geopolitical positions have changed. This requires more determination in ensuring the accessibility and international connections of Finland’s regions and central cities. Important tools for this are the TEN-T projects funded through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) and influencing the ongoing revision of the TEN-T Regulation.
An important goal in the revision of the TEN-T Regulation is to extend the core network to the ports in northern Finland and to retain the status of the current comprehensive network ports. More flexibilities should be added to the requirements for urban nodes and to the data collection and reporting obligations proposed by the Commission. The requirements should also be aligned with funding opportunities.
The transfer of the last sections leading to the Russian-Belarusian border from the core to the comprehensive network must not jeopardise the eligibility of these connections under CEF. The accessibility of the different regions of the Member States, such as Eastern Finland, must not be unnecessarily undermined in a changed geopolitical climate. Although Finland needs an exemption from the European standard track gauge, it is important to keep in mind future potential and integration, for example Finland's connections to Sweden, Norway and Rail Baltica.
To have better access to EU support, Finland should invest longer-term and more timely efforts in the planning and prioritisation of CEF-eligible projects, such as rail projects. This also requires increased national funding for covering the projects’ self-financing share. Finland should contribute to the Rail Baltica project because it will create a rapid connection between central and northern Europe.
A shift to sustainable and smart mobility within the EU is crucial. The Commission is preparing several initiatives to further this goal, for example the revision of the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) Directive and an update to the regulation on Multi-Modal Travel Information Services (MMTIS) supplementing the ITS directive, and an initiative on the promotion of Multimodal Digital Mobility Services (MDMS). The Commission will consider policy measures concerning, for example, passenger rights during multi-modal journeys. The discussions on the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR) continue as well.
A transition to green and digital mobility requires common objectives and commitment and an understanding of the regional circumstances of the Member States. It is also important to understand the nature and specific requirements of the activities of the parties for whom new responsibilities are assigned. The obligations imposed on local and regional public actors should be balanced with the benefits to be achieved and with the opportunities, challenges and economic limits of effectively fulfilling the obligations. Overly detailed regulation at the European level should be avoided. Public actors should have discretion to adopt the most appropriate and cost-effective solutions in implementing the transition.
The regulatory framework for mobility should promote mobility and the integration of mobility services in a way that increases the share of sustainable modes of transport, especially in urban areas. The EU should avoid regulatory changes that undermine the legal (EC Regulation 1370/2007 on public service contracts) and financial basis for the organisation of public transport in urban areas. Urban regions play a pivotal role in meeting the emission reduction targets set for transport.
The directive on the maximum authorised dimensions and weights for road vehicles will be revised. High capacity transport (HCT) connections should be concentrated on carefully selected routes, which lead to ports, logistics centres and industrial areas. Dense city centres should be avoided. The street network plays a key role in ensuring safe walking and cycling.
Inquiries: Johanna Vilkuna, Development Manager, and Paula Kosunen, International Affairs Coordinator